“An Unjust Law Is Not a Law”

According to Augustine, Aquinas, and Martin Luther King, Jr., an unjust law is no law at all. I’ll call this thesis ULNL, relying more on Aquinas’s version of it than Augustine’s or MLK’s. ULNL is, famously or notoriously, a staple of natural law theorizing. Though sympathetic to what he calls “the minimal content of natural law,” H.L.A. Hart takes issue with ULNL in The Concept of Law on both theoretical and deliberative grounds. Continue reading

Law’s Empire

When I was younger, I had this conviction that the law was a noble calling allied with rationality and justice. The more I learn about it, and see of it, and deal with it, the more it seems a grotesque parody or subversion of those things. Necessary? Yes. Noble? Not really. Often, it just seems like a game played by the rich, educated, and powerful, intended to rationalize whatever needs to be rationalized so that the world stays the way it is.

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Cautionary Tale

From the US State Department’s periodic safety advisory to travelers, Nov. 23, 2021:

Reconsider travel to Israel due to COVID-19. Exercise increased caution in Israel due to terrorism and civil unrest.

No need to “exercise caution” due to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or the Israeli siege of Gaza, apparently. Sporadic terrorism and vague hints of “civil unrest” are cause for concern, but a military occupation/siege enforced by M-16s, F-16s, phosphorus bombs, tear gas, armored vehicles, militarized bulldozers, and state-sponsored vigilantism is nothing to worry about.

Could the selectivity of the worries expressed by Foggy Bottom reflect the selective nature of its intended audience?

Studies in Objectivist Propaganda: Robert Tracinski’s “Woke Kant”

I’ve been thinking for awhile of starting a series at PoT called Studies in Objectivist Propaganda (SOP). Technically, this post will have to be SOP #1, though I suppose I could go back and dig up some prior posts that fit the bill: there’s never a shortage of Objectivist propaganda out there, and I rarely seem to resist the temptation to take pot-shots (or PoT-shots) at it. As a recovering Objectivist myself, I guess I owe it the world to undo some of the damage I did by contributing my own share of Objectivist propaganda to Existence. That said, I don’t think I contributed anything half as bad as the stuff I now regularly see on the Internet. Which gives me standing to attack it when I see it.

Was Kant the first “woke” philosopher? Yes, says Robert Tracinski, who makes sure to tell us that he’s read The Critique of Pure Reason, and therefore damn well knows what’s he’s talking about. I’ll let you wend your way through Tracinski’s tendentious, cherry-picked, convoluted argument for yourself. I wouldn’t want you to miss (or myself want to misrepresent) anything he says, and independence, as we all know, is the crown of the Objectivist virtues. Continue reading

The Invisible Casualties of CBT

This article just below reads like a companion piece to my earlier post on my late wife’s Alison’s struggles with chronic pain.

https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2021/11/11/how-cbt-harmed-me-the-interview-that-the-new-york-times-erased/

I agree almost entirely with Alana Saltz, the author of the article, and am saddened that Alison isn’t here to read it (in fact, I had to fight my initial impulse to send it to her). Saltz lays out many of the criticisms of CBT that Alison had made to me over the years, both as a therapist herself, and as someone with chronic pain. Before hearing those criticisms, I’d always had some vague unease about CBT that I wasn’t quite able to pinpoint. It wasn’t until Alison started expressing her criticisms of CBT in the direct, concrete, and vehement way characteristic of her that I was able to re-focus my own vague, nebbish doubts about it. I wrote some of those criticisms up for grad seminars in CBT back when I was a grad student in counseling, but never did anything with what I wrote. Saltz’s piece reinforces my confidence in my criticisms; maybe I ought to take the time to write them up. Here, in any case, is a quick summary.

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The Invisible Casualties of the “Opioid Epidemic”

My wife Alison was one of the casualties of the tragedy described in the article just below. She took her life this past March by overdosing (I surmise) on the medications she’d been prescribed for chronic pain. She explicitly told me over the years that she kept a stash with her at all times in case things got bad enough for her to have to take her own life. “I have no intention of living past 70,” she’d often say. She was 57.

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Halal Hart

I’m about to run another crazy H.L.A. Hart-inspired idea by you. It runs along the same lines as my last post, so let me just quote the first few paragraphs of that post as a preface to the thought itself:

According to H.L.A. Hart, law is a union of primary and secondary rules. A rule is a codified directive to someone. Primary rules are primary because they give directives directly to, or impose obligations directly on, those governed by the rule. Secondary rules are rules about the primary ones, specifying “the ways in which the primary rules may be conclusively ascertained, introduced, eliminated, varied, and the fact of their violation conclusively determined” (Hart, Concept of Law,  p. 94). Among the secondary rules is a “rule of recognition,” which specifies “some feature or features possession of which by a suggested rule is taken as a conclusive affirmative indication that it is a rule of the group to be supported by the social pressure it exerts” (Hart, Concept of Law, p. 94).

The rules of recognition are both ultimate and supreme with respect to a legal system. They’re ultimate in the sense that they (collectively) provide the most fundamental criterion for determining the validity of any given rule within the system. They’re supreme in the sense that they override any competing norms apparently eligible for validity within the system. On Hart’s view, it’s a necessary and sufficient condition of law that within any putative legal system, the primary and secondary rules so conceived are generally obeyed by those governed by them, and the rules of recognition are “effectively accepted as common public standards of official behaviour” by the officials in charge of the system (Hart, Concept of Law, p. 116).

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I Am the Law

(Post #3 in my ongoing series on H.L.A Hart’s The Concept of Law, keyed to the ongoing MTSP Discussion on that book.)

According to H.L.A. Hart, law is a union of primary and secondary rules. A rule is a codified directive to someone. Primary rules are primary because they give directives directly to, or impose obligations directly on, those governed by the rule. Secondary rules are rules about the primary ones, specifying “the ways in which the primary rules may be conclusively ascertained, introduced, eliminated, varied, and the fact of their violation conclusively determined” (Hart, Concept of Law,  p. 94). Among the secondary rules is a “rule of recognition,” which specifies “some feature or features possession of which by a suggested rule is taken as a conclusive affirmative indication that it is a rule of the group to be supported by the social pressure it exerts” (Hart, Concept of Law, p. 94). Continue reading

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Avatar of Liberalism and Academic Freedom

The new proposed University of Austin is being founded to promote liberalism and academic freedom:

There is a gaping chasm between the promise and the reality of higher education. Yale’s motto is Lux et Veritas, light and truth. Harvard proclaims: Veritas. Young men and women of Stanford are told Die Luft der Freiheit weht: The wind of freedom blows.

These are soaring words. But in these top schools, and in so many others, can we actually claim that the pursuit of truth—once the central purpose of a university—remains the highest virtue? Do we honestly believe that the crucial means to that end—freedom of inquiry and civil discourse—prevail when illiberalism has become a pervasive feature of campus life?

The numbers tell the story as well as any anecdote you’ve read in the headlines or heard within your own circles. Nearly a quarter of American academics in the social sciences or humanities endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences. Over a third of conservative academics and PhD students say they had been threatened with disciplinary action for their views. Four out of five American PhD students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning scholars, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

They’ve decided to hire Ayaan Hirsi Ali to teach there. Here is Hirsi Ali’s view of academic freedom, as captured in a famous 2007 interview with Reason magazine. I encourage you to read the whole thing. But this bit strikes me as particularly relevant. Continue reading

You Tell Me It’s the Institution

Well, here come the latest saviors of higher education, ready to save it from itself:

A group of scholars and activists are planning to establish a new university dedicated to free speech, alarmed, they said, “by the illiberalism and censoriousness prevalent in America’s most prestigious universities.”

The university, to be known as the University of Austin, or UATX for short, will have a soft start next summer with “Forbidden Courses,” a noncredit program that its founders say will offer a “spirited discussion about the most provocative questions that often lead to censorship or self-censorship in many universities.”

I have a single one-eyed question for these people: Will they allow BDS to operate freely on campus, or will they restrict it from doing so by taking a public stand against it, or defaming it as anti-Semitic? (See this and this as well.)  

That’s my litmus test; I have no other. So which will it be, Freethinkers?